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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Govt's Counter-Insurgency Programme and LTTE's Military Response

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

Govt's Counter-Insurgency Programme
and LTTE's Military Response

Tamil Times 15 May 1994


Some defence analysts in Colombo, who have been following the turbulent and bloody course of Eelam War Two, seem to think that the LTTE is showing signs of military decline. Operation 'White Eagle' which was launched southwest of Trincomalee and Operation Jayamaga' which was launched northwest of Vavuniya towards last week of April by the Sri Lankan army have further strengthened their view that the LTTE is actually and finally running out of steam.

Although it may be said that the question whether the Tigers are in military decline cannot be answered until one sees the effectiveness with which they can resist the army's next attempt to advance into the Jaffna Peninsula, it is nevertheless relevant to examine the current military status of the LTTE in the border areas of the north and the hinterland of the eastern province, in order to arrive at a fair picture of Sri Lanka's military situation as the crucial Presidential and Parliamentary elections approach.

If the LTTE is actually facing problems in keeping up its ability to defend its territorial possessions in the north and to mount enough pressure on the army in the east so as to compel it to spread thin a large portion of its forces in that province, on the basis of the LTTE's behaviour in the past, it is possible that Prabhakaran might either attempt to strike a deal of mutual convenience with one of the major Sinhala parties or contest the elections by proxy. It is this prospect that has given a certain measure of political significance to the question of the possible military decline of the Tigers. However, it should be pointed out at the outset that many tend to believe that the apparent inability of the Tigers to display their former military prowess in the east, and in the face of operation `Jayamaga' in the Wanni may largely be due to the diversion of the greater part of their military resources to a possible massive and concerted preparatory exercise aimed at overrunning one of the large base complexes of the army in the northern province.

But this can also mean that the LTTE currently finds itself in a situation where it has to forego a tactical advantage in the east and lose valuable territory in the Wanni in order to prepare for a major assault which would again involve the depletion of manpower and other military assets and may not achieve the desired strategic objective. Therefore the argument that the recent signs of the LTTE's military weakness are deceptive because they actually indicate a concentration of its strength elsewhere with a view to strike the army decisively and irreparably, does not hold much water – unless of course the LTTE overruns the northern Palali base which is the largest combined air, naval and military complex in the island. Let us then consider firstly the LTTE's current position in the eastern province.

The ability of a guerrilla group to operate successfully in the eastern province is derived from five vast hinterland zones comprising the dry zone jungle, shrub, marshes, wasteland, slash and burn plots and paddy fields separated from the populated coastal areas of the province by lagoons and jungle. These zones have Sinhala majority regions to their west which are also sparsely populated – being recently developed agricutural settlements. Another important advantage afforded by all these areas, except one, is that they lie not very far from safe landing points on the coast, thereby making them logistically excellent for sustained guerrilla operations.

The first of these zones – if one were to begin the enumeration from the northernmost point of the east –stretches from the jungles to the west of the Muslim dominated town of Pulmoddai, known for the Titanium rich Ilmenite sands on its shores, to the jungles above the now deserted Tiriyai.

The second one is located to the west of the destroyed village of Kumburupiddy and stretches upto the jungles above Moraweva.

The third zone which hit the news recently following Operation 'White Eagle', lies to the southwest of Mutur at that strategic juncture where the Polannaruwa, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts meet.

The fourth zone is located south of the Verugal river and north of the Polannaruwa-Batticaloa road between Welikanda and Valaichenai.

The fifth one is generally known as the Vadamunai area – taking its name from a tiny impoverished hamlet at its northwestern end, not far from the Sinhala border and which became well known after the then Mahaveli Minister, Gamini Dissanayake's aborted attempt in 1984 to settle thousands of Sinhalese there almost overnight. This zone lies between the BadullaChenkaladi road and the Welikanda-Valaichenni road.

The sixth one is the well known Paduvankarai region west of Batticaloa across the lagoon. Of all the zones, this is the most populated and economically prosperous zone.

The seventh one is known as the Kanjikudicha Aaru jungle and is located west of the trunk road between Thirukovil and Pottuvil on the southeastern coast of the Ampara district.

From the beginning of Eelam War Two the army has been engaged in a massive and costly counter insurgency program to `root out' or `reduce to a manageable level' the influence of the LTTE in all of these seven zones.

Three special centres were set up in Weli Oya – at the Independent Brigade headquarters, in Maduru Oya west of the Thoppikkal Hill in the Vadamunai zone – at the special base set up in 1993 for the special forces (S.F.), and in Kondawattuwan in the Amapara district – at the Infantry Training School. In addition to these, the Directorate of Military Intelligence trained, armed and set up special para-military groups comprising ex-Tamil militants, to aid and assist the counter insurgency operations of the Special Forces (S.F.) commandos. The Mohan group became the most notorious of these. The army adopted the standard British-American counter insurgency model to fight the LTTE In the east. The main aim of this counter insurgency program was to limit and, if possible, ultimately destroy the LTTE's logistics and tactical mobility along with its popular support among the Tamils.

The army adopted the following methods prescribed in British and U.S. counter insurgency handbooks with a view to limiting the supplies

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which the civilian population was thought to be making available to the LTTE. (In fact the Prime Minister even quoted from a book on the British counter insurgency program in Malaysia while explaining the government's strategy for fighting the war in parliament):

a) Complete evacuation or destruction of villages. This is generally considered by all western counter insurgency experts as the best way to hit at the main source of sustenance for guerrillas in their base areas. Hundreds of villages in the less visible interior parts of all seven zones described above stand derelict or completely destroyed as a result. In zone one even the main population centre, Tiriyai has not been spared. Today only about 7 or 8 destitute old people live there under the watchful eye of the army. About 9 small settlements around it such as Kallampathai are no more. The fate of Tiriyai is attributed to the fact that its location and prosperity made it extremely convenient for Tiger groups moving into the east from the north to rest and replenish their supplies. Kumburuppidy, the main village in zone two, and before 1990 the most prosperous in the whole district, is a mound of rubble for the same reason. Several Tamil villages on the cultivated edge of zone three such as L.B. 3 and Nilapolai have met with the same fate. Plus many more such as Thonikkal, Kirimichai, Anaisudda Kulam etc., in zone four; Perilla Weli, Kudumbi Malai, Oothuchenai, Miyankal etc in zone five; the remote settlements oif Unnichai and Thanthamalai in zone six; and Thangavelayuthapuram, Udumpankulam, Thandiady, Rufus, Periyathalavai etc., in zone seven are some of the impoverished Tamil hamlets which have also been completely erased from the face of the earth as part of the army's Eelam War Two C.I. (Counter Insurgency) programme in order to deny sustenance to Tiger attack groups which may operate in these seven zones.

b) Destruction of crops and prevention of cultivation:- This standard C.I. method recommended by most western military handbooks and known in the past as the scorched earth policy of conventional wars, has been central to the army's effort to limit supplies derived from the civilian population to the LTTE. In each of the seven hinterland zones of the eastern province, thousands of acres of fertile paddyand cash crop fields lie derelict as a result of this policy. In zone five alone, according to Joseph Pararajasingham M.P. for Batticaloa, sixty thousand acres belonging to a paddy belt called the Perilla Weli Kandam cannot yet be cultivated because of the ban imposed by the army. The meagre crops of some stragglers who escaped mass evacuations and destruction of settlements west of Peril-la Weli and in the far reaches of zones one, two, four and seven are regularly destroyed whenever Special Forces groups of the army come upon them. The frail structures put up by the cultivators to live in and guard their crops are also set on fire, in order to compel them to seek a refugee camp under army control without tarrying in the jungle. Despite this some individuals return to risk another try. This accounts for the fluctuating number of recent refugees in camps that were set up under army supervision to shelter people driven out thus from the seven zones. (Very few foreign observers have seen these camps mainly because most, if not all, western missions in Colombo which believe that the success of the current C.I. program of the army in the east is key to the 'restoration of the democratic process' in the Tamil region, do not want to be seen throwing the spanner into the works, as it were, by asking their countrymen to visit these places). The Komari, Thambalagamam, Thirukovil and Pethalai (near Valaichenai) camps are among several which shelter victims of this C.I. method.

c) Control of supplies to civilians living near rebel areas:- This method in effect applies wherever Tamils live in the hinterland zones of the east. The Muslim town of Pulmoddai in northern Trinco has also been subjected to the strictures of this method since the beginning of Eelam War Two because the army strongly suspects that Muslims here help the LTTE. There is a shortage of medicine in this town as a consequence. Certain items such as chocolates, batteries, aluminium sheets, steel rods, wire etc are still banned beyond the town of Akkaraipattu in the Amparai district. The army ensures that in all seven zones there is direct control on, and supervision of, the amount of food and medicine each family buys and takes into their area of residence. Many are often arrested and questioned for buying more provisions than what the STF or the S.F. consideradequate for the families of the suspects.

The overall effect of these C.I. methods aimed at undermining the material and moral support base of the LTTE In the east has, over the last three years, made the populations in the hinterland zones quite war weary. The local government elections, from the C.I. point of view, were held to present a way out for the war weary people in the hinterlands of the east. The LTTE's main weakness in the province is that it has not been able to counter this problem by cultivating ideological commitment, stepping up interaction through social service, cultural and educational programs, aimed at preventing the sense of alienation arising from war weariness among the hinterland populations. The manner in which the Viet Cong handled the same problem in such strategic zones in their country is a case in point.

In fact the LTTE is playing into the army's hands, much to the satisfaction of its C.I. experts, by engaging in tax collection in these zones most of the time. The absence of frequent and spectacular attacks in the east has also contributed to a certain lack of enthusiasm, and hence recruits. In addition to the standard C.I. methods described above, the deployment of small and highly mobile special forces commandos which are constantly roaming one part or the other of the hinterland zones has greatly reduced the tactical mobility of the LTTE in the field and resulted in the loss of a large number of important Tiger cadres.

Prabhakaran's answer to this problem has been to pull out his key commanders and political workers from the east. This has led to a further decline in the LTTE's actual military and political influence in the east. This state of affairs in the hinterland zones of the province has enabled the army to manage the populated areas of the east largely by saturating them with police personnel who are given some additional training for working in `terrorist areas'. As long as the LTTE finds life difficult in the hinterland zones, it cannot effectively threaten the main population centres of the province, even when they are maintained by the police, who are no match at all to seasoned Tiger combatants. Therefore, soon after the local government elections, the army was able to pull out a large number of its troops from the east

without jeopardising the consolidated gains of its C.I. program. Those troops were soon redeployed in the north.

The LTTE meanwhile seems to be concentrating on large scale and spectacular attacks on military bases, which require long and patient information gathering, special training and logistical preparation. All this forces the Tiger leadership to divert precious resources needed for regularly engaging in widespread guerrilla operations. As a result the army has found plenty of time to rest and re-train its troops which were heavily battered and incessantly harassed during the first two years of Eelam War Two. In fact the whole of last year, there were only eighteen days of actual combat – though of high intensity and ferocity.

Despite the set backs and humiliation, the overall military situation in the northeast seems to have improved in the army's favour, when one considers the effect of C.I. program in the east and the free time the army has had to rethink and revamp its defense systems in the north and to focus more on training the foot soldier, particularly after Lt. Gen. Gerry Silva took over as army chief. Operation Jayamaga' indicates clearly that the army is also interested in implementing a different kind of C.I. program in the north. The large number of troops which were pulled out of the east enabled the army to capture and hold on to the 60 square kilometer territory northwest of Vavuniya. The significance of this operation is that it was aimed at, and succeeded in bringing under the army's control, the green belt of the Vavuniya district.

The idea is to develop this green belt prosperously and woo the larger portion of the population of those areas of the district still under Tiger control. The plan seems to be directed at depriving the LTTE of the resource areas of the Wanni districts over an extended period of time. The army will proceed apace with this plan if it can pull out more and more troops from the east. Preoccupied as it is with the military glory of large scale attacks in and around the peninsula, the LTTE is not in a position to counter the long term, indirect and creeping victory which the army is interested in achieving, though as in the east, at a tremendous cost to the Tamil civilian population.

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